It's a rarer thing than it probably should be for local theatre companies to take part in the Canberra Theatre's subscription season - the last time we saw one was about five years ago with Everyman's "Home at the End". But hopefully with this being a rocking great sell-out hit, the gap may be reduced a little, and maybe, just maybe, the biggest professional venue in town may be persuaded to invest a little more in our own local product.
Anyway, apart from that, how is the show? It's a tight two hander, an Australian-written, European-set, American-characters-led thriller about Patricia Highsmith, best-selling thriller writer best known for "Strangers on a Train" and the Ripley series of books - confronted by a representative of her publishers requesting one more book from her, a young-but-enthusiastic man called Edward Ridgeway. Highsmith's bitterness, rage and defensiveness is high, but the temptation to prove herself one more time proves stronger than she's expecting, and the cat-and-mouse game proves that Ridgeway may not be quite as mousy as he seems...
Joanna Murray-Smith's script is one of her best (for me, she does better when tempted into the more heavily plotted genres of thriller (this) and farce (Female of the Species), rather than the looser moral-conundrum plays like "Honour", "Fury" and "The Gift" she's made her name with). Yep, there are a couple of speeches that wander closer to the-author's-essay-pieces rather than functional character dialogue, but it's a tight evening that succeeds in unpeeling two characters in ways that are constantly thrilling. Jordan Best's production seduces us in - Karen Vickery's venomous Highsmith is an unholy terror who we're glad is firmly on the other side of the footlights to us, and Lachlan Ruffy's Ridgeway proves a worthy adversary - Ruffy still looks ridiculously boyish, damn his hide (I'm sure there's a portrait in his cupboard somewhere), but shows that the long gap we've had between seeing him on Canberra stages hasn't been wasted. Vickery too shows her skill in making Highsmith just the right mix of brutal and engaging - she's a fascinating monster to watch. Michael Sparks' visually dense set contains all the right nooks, crannies and lethal instruments, and Cynthia Jolley Rogers lighting brings the right amount of mood and focus to the shifting onstage power-struggle.
I'd usually say "rush out and buy a ticket" but you can't. Rush out and buy tickets to anything these people are involved in next time, get in early. It's rare that work this good has sold this well (damn you Canberra audiences) but I'm glad that this time, quality has been rewarded and can't wait to see what comes next for everyone involved.